7But we have this treasure in clay pots, so that this overflowing power might clearly be from God and not from us. 8We are afflicted but not finished off, at a loss but not despondent, 9persecuted but not abandoned, thrown to the ground but not destroyed. 10We always carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus may be revealed there also. — 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
I was at First UMC yesterday, and Dr. Wesley Wachob spoke about pain. There are a number of things I carried away from that sermon, but one comment he made was that preachers who tell you that you will not experience pain as a Christian are after your social security check. After I heard that I started considering Bible stories, and I think that of those about whom we have enough information, I can’t recall anyone who wasn’t recorded as having some sort of pain in their lives, unless there was something else wrong. I don’t remember any painful experiences in Solomon’s life, and look what happened to him!
In our passage today, a very famous one, Paul has been discussing his ministry. He uses â€œweâ€ here, probably referring to himself and the company that worked with him in his apostolic activity. That’s the â€œwe.â€ The treasure of the gospel is carried around in clay pots. Now to us, clay pots are often something special, because we don’t get them every day. They might be decorative, historical, or they might have some sentimental value. But in Paul’s day, and for millenia before him, clay pots were the standard utensils used in the house. They had the great advantage of being relatively inexpensive, and one would just sweep away the pieces if they broke. A good deal of ancient near eastern archeology is based on the fact that pots break and leave recoverable pieces.
So Paul is calling himself an ordinary, everyday vessel that is used to contain treasureâ€”the message of the gospel. It’s done that way so that it will be clear that God is the one who is doing the work. Paul isn’t special. He’s a vessel for a very special God. He accomplishes this by being incorporated into the death of Jesus so that he can also have Jesus living in him. That’s a whole subject in itself.
But what I want to point out here is that having troubles for a Christian is not something to get us down, to wipe us out, or to leave us broken. We may be troubled and attacked on every side, but we’re never out. To use an athletic metaphor, as Paul does so often, it might be the bottom of the ninth and we’re behind by double digits in runs, but we know that we have several grand slams left in the line-up. Somebody else might write us off, somebody else might feel pity for us, but we don’t feel pity for ourselves. We know what the final scoreboard is going to say, and no matter what it may look like, no matter how impossible the situation may seem to others, we know that we’ve joined up with the One who is never defeated.
Sometimes when I talk about difficulties it may sound like these are things to be tolerated somehow. But the fact is that we’re called to confidence, joy, and victory, even as we know all the time that God is the one who is acting.
No matter what it looks like, we’re never abandoned, and if we’re never abandoned, then we know we’re in good shape, no matter how fragile the clay pot may look!